Fearing's Brunch Is Scary Good

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Dear Dean Fearing,

Let me begin by saying how much I enjoyed the brunch I ate at your restaurant, Fearing's, in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel yesterday in Uptown. I had high expectations for a chef of your caliber. You are the Mansion on Turtle Creek guy, after all. You are known far and wide for having gussied up Southwestern cuisine something fine. It was an honor to have dined at your highly regarded establishment. My expectations were met or exceeded in all but one very significant way. And to that end, I have a question for you.

Dean Fearing, why don't you make your own Bloody Mary mix?

I understand that brunch is probably not your big money maker -- starters at $12 and entrees at $24 are well below your dinner price points, and there probably aren't a lot of those $93 bottles of Italian red flying out of the cellar. Still, Sunday brunch is not an unimportant meal. It's a meal for families and hungover lovers. For businessmen dreading a crowded Sunday afternoon flight home. But that is no reason to treat brunch like a lesser-loved stepchild. Uniting two distinct food groupings, brunch is an opportunity for creativity with abandon.

And certainly you demonstrated such abandon with your brunch food menu, which was affordable and delicious. But Dean -- I am going to call you Dean, because a $100 brunch tab entitles me to do so, I think -- you really crapped the bed with the Bloody Marys.

I'll get to the why's and how's of the bed-crapping here in a minute, because first I want to talk about the many things you did right. Criticism is most constructive when it starts out with praise, is it not?

Dean, you probably know that your "chicken fried" Texas quail served over waffles with a maple bacon drizzle, greens and pickle relish is a little piece of Southern heaven on earth. The quail was peppery and tender, the greens savory and firm. The maple bacon drizzle was a saucy alternative to a boring, sticky syrup. No doubt many a self-made Ritz-diner who has long forgotten his or her roots will be taken back to the days of Mama's cooking upon first bite of the Fearing's version of classic chicken and waffles.

I suspect, Dean, that you are also aware of the excellence of the dish my Man O' The Hour ordered, a Fearing's take on eggs Benedict, a fluffy poached egg served with chili and poblano Hollandaise on a cheddar biscuit. "They know their way around bread," the Man O' The Hour later told me, and he's right. He reminds me that even the starter breads - -a biscuit, some savory granola-style bites and cinnamon roll swirls were impeccable, especially with that homemade strawberry preserve and honey butter.

And the pumpkin whoopie pie dessert? Fantastic. Those little pumpkin bread sandwiches were moist perfection. And cranberry sauce! Inspired. It was a delicious little Thanksgiving dinner.

But here is where I have to say the mean things, Dean. The hard things. Here is where I tell you that your Bloody Marys are a downright shame and I have trouble reconciling the deliciousness of your food -- and your obvious dedication to an extensive wine menu -- with the careless and lazy approach you've taken to the most important Sunday drink of all.

Here's the thing. The drinks were fine -- I loved the choice of fresh jalapeno and tortilla-strip garnish. And I absolutely cannot fault anyone for using, as you do, Zing Zang mixer. Even in high-end restaurants, I concede that Zing Zang is probably as good or better than what most can whip up on their own.

But not you, Dean. Not the damned father of Southwestern cuisine. You can do better. And you should. And when you do do better, you should charge people $12 for your house-special Bloody Marys, and charge people $9 or less for the Zing Zang version.

Because $12 for a Zing Zang Bloody Mary with half-assed garnish is highway robbery. I understand you're running a hotel restaurant. And when people go to hotel restaurants, they expect to overpay for mediocre food and drinks. But Fearing's is supposed to be a different kind of hotel restaurant. As such, I believe you have an obligation to the people of Dallas -- and those visiting from elsewhere -- to serve them up something a little meatier for 12 freaking dollars a glass.

I can't believe you're incapable of mixing up some spicy, inspired take on this classic beverage. I can only believe that you've decided you can't be bothered. But, Dean! You bother with so many things! You bothered to make the decor thoroughly unintelligible (the lamps that appear to be made out of human skin were a neat touch on Halloween, not sure how they'd go over with me the rest of the year.) You bothered to tell your wait staff to wear orange striped pajama tops in what I presume is an affectation of casualness. Please, Dean. Please. If you have to charge $12 for a Mary, please bother to make it a decent one.

No hard feelings, Dean. Let me know when you've got your signature Mary brewed up, and I'll be back lickety split.


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